Noreen Farooqui, writer, copywriter, behavioural scientist, strategy, strategist, University of Toronto, English, business psychology, behavioural economics

Negritude Portraiture: Part 2

The 1970s: The Reintroduction of Blacks on Television
In the 1970s, Norman Lear and Budd Yorkin introduced the world to the loveable bigot, Archie Bunker in All in the Family. Controversial to this day, this program spawned two black series: Good Times andThe Jeffersons. But before that, there was Sanford and Son. Based on the British series, Steptoe and Son, this program featured a low-class junk dealer who lived with his middle-aged son, Lamont.

SanfordandSon

The two protagonists were weak, lazy men who sat around a junkyard. Aunt Esther, Fred’s sister-in-law was a mammy caricature and nemesis with whom he exchanged angry words. These images were reminiscent of Amos ‘n’ Andy and so was the slapstick humour. Fred’s trademark routine was when he clutched his chest, feigning a heart attack and screamed to his deceased wife: “Elizabeth, it’s the big one! I’m coming to join you honey.”

Sandford and Son was highly successful and made reference to racial issues, but did not take an active stand against the sociopolitical situation of the day.

The second program of the decade that gave visibility to blacks is Good Times, featuring Esther Rolle and John Amos as loving and disciplinarian parents to three children in a housing project on Chicago’s Southwest side. Originally, CBS wanted the Evanses to be a single-parent family, but Rolle, a champion in the fight for positive black images in popular media, insisted it be a two-parent home. The show dealt with issues not normally addressed on television and gave the world a glimpse of what it was like to live as a black family in the 1970s. Rent parties, unemployment and politics were all issues that the series covered. The character of J.J. was played by comedian Jimmy Walker. With the introduction of his later trademark expression, “Dy-No-Mite,” episodes would increasingly centre on him. The image of the coon appeared again. Amos and Rolle were unhappy with the direction that Good Times was taking, and demanded that the show return to its roots. In a 1977 interview with Ebony magazine, Rolle communicated her anger:

“He’s eighteen and doesn’t work. He doesn’t read or write. He doesn’t think. The show didn’t start out to be like that. Michael’s role of a bright, thinking child has been reduced. Little by little- with the help of the artist, I suppose, because they couldn’t do that to me – they have made J.J. more stupid and enlarged the role. Negative images have been slipped in on us through the character of the oldest child.”

After Rolle and Amos left Good Times, ratings began to slide. J.J. smartened up and got himself a job with an advertising agency, but the initial appeal of the program was lost and the numerous actors introduced in subsequent episodes could not save the series. Good Times’ last broadcast was in August of 1979.

TheJeffersons

“We’re movin’ on up,” are lyrics in the theme song to the next Lear-Yorkin creation, The Jeffersons. The first economically viable black family in television history had George Jefferson, a successful businessperson who owned a chain of seven dry cleaning establishments. The character of George was created for All in the Family as a parallel to Archie’s racist antics. George was suspicious of whites and openly called them ‘honkies.’ Humour was found in the bantering between George and his smart-mouthed maid, Florence. Once again, racial stereotyping was an issue as George was seen as a coon with his shuffling dance; Louise as a mammy and Florence as a lazy black maid. The series is credited for introducing us to the first inter-racial couple on television, the Willises, the Jeffersons’ in-laws and neighbours.

Tomorrow: The 1980s: Changing the Face of Blacks in Popular Media



4 Responses to “Negritude Portraiture: Part 2”

  1. Mark says:

    I remember all of these shows. I liked them too.

    While Sanford and son was one I liked, I can see your point. IN good times, I remember the father as being a strong workingclass character. I found him slightly admirable. I saw Archie Bunker and George Jefferson as sort of mirror images of each other. Both racist, and both in harmony in their opinions on racism. For me neither of them was the answer. All in the family had to do for me of the passing away of the world of who would have been my grandparents. ( it was my grandmother trumble who explained the last line of the song as a reference to a car.)Archie needed to grow and change. He was a criticism of a sort of ignorance I hope to transcend.
    When are you going to get to “MOd Squad”? Star Trek? ( I suspect many boys noticed how attractive Uhura was).

  2. Mark says:

    from the same album …amos and andy

    this is the one hiphop album I liked, and played many times (loosely memorized)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgoTSuBZPGI

  3. noreenfa-admin says:

    Thanks so for the links, Mark! The songs are so relevant to my article.

    All in the Family and The Jeffersons served as social commentary for changing times.

    Mod Squad and Star Trek are not included in my analysis. My focus is on shows with a predominantly black cast and their contribution to the image of people of colour on television.

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